Playing a recreational sport as an adult can be a great way to stay fit and social. An afternoon in the park playing a pick-up game of soccer or a few rounds of tennis can help you relieve stress, have fun, and finally settle a score with your biggest competitor — for some a friend or neighbor, for others a son or daughter!
But organized sports can come with a risk: every year, 8.6 million Americans sustain a sports- or recreation-related injury.
Many of these injuries heal on their own over time, but some can be more serious. A torn ACL, for example, often requires surgery—and that can cost upwards of $20,000 to $50,000 without insurance.
You can’t always prevent an injury, but you can be smart about the way you train and play sports. Taking a few precautions today might help you to avoid an injury down the line, which your body (and wallet) will thank you for.
Here are the 5 most common injuries adults can get while playing an organized sport and how to prevent them so you can stay active and healthy.
#1: Pulled muscles
Pulled muscles are one of the most common sports injuries. Fortunately, most aren’t usually serious and will heal with time and rest.
A pulled muscle happens when one of your muscles is stretched beyond its capacity in a sudden way. Hamstrings and groins are 2 of the most commonly pulled muscles — especially among athletes who do a lot of sprinting.
How to prevent it: The best way to prevent a pulled muscle is to take time to warm up before playing any sport. It’s important to give your muscles a chance to limber up and stretch before exerting yourself with an all-out effort.
#2: Sprained ankle
Sprained ankles are another common sports injury that is usually relatively minor. Sprained ankles can happen when your foot rolls inward, straining the weak ligaments on the outside of your ankle.
Many sprained ankles will heal over time, but high ankle sprains can be more serious and should be evaluated by a doctor.
How to prevent it: To help avoid sprained ankle, be careful when walking or running on uneven surfaces. Make sure you’re wearing the right kind of shoes for your sport, and that they fit correctly.
If you have an ankle that was injured in the past, it could help to wear tape or even an ankle brace for support.
#3: Knee injuries
Knee injuries are one of the most common types of sports injuries across organized sports. Every year, over 5 million people get a knee injury severe enough to require a trip to an orthopedic surgeon.
Knee injuries run the gamut from repetitive strain injuries that can heal in a couple days to serious ACL tears that often require surgery. Here are two common knee injuries that affect active adults in recreational sports:
Patellofemoral syndrome, also known as “runner’s knee,” is a common knee injury among athletes who do a lot of running. Runner’s knee is a repetitive overuse injury that happens when the tendon below the kneecap becomes inflamed and irritated. This can cause a painful aching sensation in the knee.
One of the most serious types of knee injuries is an ACL tear. Your ACL is a ligament that plays an important role in stabilizing your knee, and sometimes it can be damaged by sharply pivoting or changing directions while running.
A mild ACL strain can often be treated with rest, but a complete ACL tear is a serious injury that requires surgery and physical therapy to heal.
How to prevent it: Fortunately, runner’s knee typically heals on its own over time. If you start to experience pain below your kneecap, you should cut back on your running and give your knee time to rest and recover.
Wearing supportive shoes and insoles and making sure to replace them regularly can help you avoid runner’s knee and ACL tears. Try to run on softer surfaces, like synthetic running tracks and trails rather than hard concrete sidewalks.
Cross-training can help exercise different movement patterns and help avoid overuse injuries in your knee. You may also want to lift weights once or twice a week to strengthen your quadriceps and help protect your knees.
And finally, consider regular stretching to maintain symmetry between the left and right sides of your body. Studies show that having a flexibility imbalance of even 15% can make you more susceptible to injuries.
#4: Tennis elbow
Tennis elbow is a surprisingly common injury, accounting for 7% of all sports injuries. It affects your forearm, elbow, and wrist, and can cause pain when you bend your wrist backward or turn your palm upwards.
So what causes tennis elbow? As a repetitive strain injury, tennis elbow tends to occur in athletes who perform frequent swinging motions — like golfers and tennis players.
How to prevent it: If you find you’re starting to experience elbow pain during either one of these sports, try adjusting your form to take some of the stress off your elbow.
If possible, apply ice and give your arm some time to rest. Forearm-strengthening exercises can also help protect you against tennis elbow.
#5: Shoulder injuries
About 20% of sports injuries involve the shoulder joint — more specifically, the rotator cuff. Shoulder injuries are especially common in sports that involve throwing or swinging your arms overhead, like baseball, tennis, and swimming.
Overusing your shoulder muscles can lead to inflamed muscles and shoulder impingement, and even lead to a tear of your rotator cuff.
When shoulder injuries occur, the culprit is often a lack of strength, stabilization, or flexibility. Many adult athletes find they’re more susceptible to shoulder injuries when they haven’t been using their shoulder muscles for a while, which creates a decrease in strength and flexibility.
How to prevent it: It’s important to stretch and strengthen all 3 heads of your deltoids muscle, especially during your sport’s offseason.
If you do happen to hurt your shoulder, remember the PRICE protocol:
- P – Protect the injured area. If necessary, apply a splint or crutch.
- R – Restrict movement to avoid making the injury worse.
- I – Apply ice to reduce swelling and inflammation.
- C – Apply compression (elastic bandages work well) to reduce swelling.
- E – Elevate the injured area above the heart to reduce swelling even more.
It pays to be prepared
Whether you’re a runner, swimmer or summertime golfer, being aware of how to protect yourself when you’re playing your favorite sport will ensure you can stay injury-free and keep playing well into the future.
Of course, it always pays to be prepared. That’s why accident insurance can be such a smart investment — especially for an athlete like you who cares about staying healthy and active.